Last week, Joe Bruin was turned into a symbol of anti-Semitism.
Just days after a massacre of Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the National Students for Justice in Palestine organization, a group established in 2010 that claims to advocate for humanitarian rights in Palestine, designed and released a logo in which UCLA’s cherished mascot is depicted flying what looks like a kite-bomb in the image of a Palestinian flag. The logo is to be used in the NSJP conference at UCLA next week.
This kite isn’t like any old kite you might see flying at the beach. It resembles actual petrol kite-bombs, which Hamas, a terrorist organization, launches into Israel to start fires and terrorize the population. Hamas has even launched a kite with a swastika painted on it.
Israel’s Mediterranean climate is much like Southern California’s. These kites are intended to ravage the landscape. We all know too well what fires from a single cigarette can do here.
NSJP is openly broadcasting its solidarity with Hamas terrorists by co-opting UCLA’s cherished mascot in this fashion. Standing for Palestinian human rights is one thing; advocating for violence is another. This use of the university’s trademark should offend all Bruins, regardless of their political sympathies.
In mark of just how serious this act is, UCLA’s administration issued an almost-immediate cease-and-desist letter directed against the mascot infringement.
The context of this logo is important. According to Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, over the past few years some SJP leaders around the country have been documented saying, among other things, “kill all the Jews,” “let’s stuff some Jews in the oven” and “kill all Zionists.”
The group now mocks our cherished symbol. Sure, a bear flying a Palestinian kite might not be perceived as a hateful message at face value. But the political context of the imagery – and the history it reminds us of – cannot be ignored.
To be clear: I do not believe all SJP-affiliated students are anti-Semites or terror supporters. I have relationships with several SJP at UCLA students who simply care deeply about Palestinian human rights and do not freely mix with anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, hate and terror.
My message to these students: Start your own group that is independent of NSJP.
A hate group can’t advocate for human rights. But people who really care about Palestinians, Jews and the future of humanity in the region can still do important work without demonizing and attacking others.
There is a real conversation to be had about Israel and Palestine. There is room to critique history and the current leadership of both sides. There is a chance to work toward a better future.
But Hamas doesn’t offer that hope. And neither does NSJP’s Joe Bruin-turned anti-Semite.
Lerner is the executive director of Hillel at UCLA.